Let the Past Stay There

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The Past Can Be Painful

I have never been in prison. I work with lots of folks who have, but I have never directly experienced it. I read a story of a man who was in prison, awaiting sentencing. He was either going to be imprisoned longer, sentenced to death, or set free. Here’s the thing – this time, he had done nothing wrong! He had a past. In fact, this man had a terrible past. But this was not the reason he was incarcerated. He really had done nothing wrong. Not this time…

The man whose story I am referring to is the Apostle Paul. Paul was on house arrest in Rome, waiting for a trial. By all the information we have, Paul had not broken the law. He had done nothing wrong. While he was there, Paul wrote these words to the Philippian church:

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Yes, he said that while incarcerated.

A Rough Past

I mean no disrespect for Paul when I say this, but man, this guy had a rough past. He went about arresting Christians and participated in their executions (see Acts Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1, 2). Paul (or Saul, as he was called before his conversion), was a great persecutor of Christians. His goal was to put an end to the spreading of the Gospel. I have to say, Paul was a mean, bordering on evil, man. He did a lot of damage to a lot of families. This is hardly the Paul we see preaching the Gospel and risking his life in the process.

After his conversion in Acts 9, Paul went through a lot. He was arrested multiple times, shipwrecked at least three times, beaten with rods at least three times, and stoned at least once (I Corinthians 11:25). Put differently, Paul was treated terribly by others, had disasters happen in his life, and struggled to stay alive on several occasions. It was this same Apostle Paul who was resilient enough to write those words – “…forgetting those things which are behind…”

Paul’s words about forgetting those things which are behind are words he had to live by. This was not a statement made as instruction only. Paul lived this daily. He had to let his past end before he could cut it loose from his future. You and I face this same task. Too often, we allow our past to chase us down. We ruminate about how things could have – and maybe even should have been different. But they weren’t. Our past wrongdoing, the wrong done to us, and even the wrong done to someone we know that impacted us somehow all try to chase us down and convince us there is no hope. But Paul gives us a recipe for hope. He tells us to forget and reach at the same time.

Let the Past End

Paul’s declaration about forgetting the past is tied to reaching toward the things that God has in store for us. Paul clearly tells us that we cannot reach a better future without letting the past stay where it is. Paul looked at his own life and there is no question he had regrets. He had a host of things he wished he would have done differently. He experienced things he wished he hadn’t gone through. But he let it lie where it was.

Try to change one thing in your past. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Of course, we all know that is impossible. At the same time, we spend a countless amount of time and effort trying to change what has already happened. It really is over. Look, I don’t mean to sound flip or detached when I say this. If you have done wrong, repent and move on. If you have been done wrong, forgive and move on. Whether you need to forgive others or yourself, it is key to moving forward in your life. Let the past come to an end. You can never change what has already occurred. (Download my free eBook, Finding Freedom through Forgiveness, for more on that topic.)

Reach Forward

The road to your future does not have to be paved with the rubble from your past. Paul tells us that once we let the past end, we can reach forward to the things that God has for us. God has a plan and purpose for your life. Reach for it! Cut the rope holding that anchor from the past in place. Reach for it! Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Let the past end. Reach for that calling God has just for you.

Imagine this. Paul had planted churches, ministered to innumerable thousands, and done many great things by this time. Yet, he said not even he was finished. God still had more for Paul. In fact, we read these words precisely because Paul did not lose hope. He wrote this letter while still hoping for more. Keep reaching. Cut those anchor lines and keep sailing. God is not finished with your life yet. Follow His lead and reach for the purpose He has designed for you right now. It might change from situation to situation, but it is there. Reach forward with hope!

Skyler Barnhart